He was born on the Erin's Isle, a three-master owned by his father, a sea captain. Educated at Culford School, he became a mechanical engineer at Richard Moreland & Sons and W. Summerscales & Sons in the City, before going to sea as a marine engineer in 1906. He rose to chief engineer in ships of the Woodfield SS Co.; went to the United States in 1911 and wrote books, afterwards going to sea in ships of the United Fruit Company. During World War I he served in the Royal Navy as engineer in various transport ships. While in the navy he met Pauline Khondoff, a Bulgarian refugee. The couple wed in 1920, but divorced in 1932. He was married twice more, first to Beatrice Allender who died in 1952 and then to Dorothy North. After the war, he returned to the United States to live in Roxbury, Connecticut. He was with the United Fruit Co., as chief until 1924, when he turned definitively to writing. In addition to books, he also wrote reviews for The New York Sun and The New York Times.
He wrote several collections of reminiscences; his hobby was making ship models.
Sunlight in New Granada. Doubleday, Page & Co. 1925.
Swallowing the anchor: Being a revised and enlarged collection of notes made by an engineer in the merchant service who secured leave of absence from his ship to investigate & report upon the alleged superiority of life ashore. Doubleday, Page & Co. 1925.
Pilgrims of Adversity. Doubleday, Doran & company, Inc. 1928.
Life of Sir Martin Frobisher. J. Lane, Bodley Head. 1928.
North of Suez. Doubleday Doran. 1930.
Sailors of Fortune. William Heinemann Ltd. 1930.
The Harbourmaster. The Sun Dial Press. 1931.
No Castle in Spain. Doubleday Doran. 1933.
More Harbours of Memory. Doubleday Doran. 1934.
The Beachcomber. Doubleday Doran. 1935.
Sailor's Wisdom. J. Cape. 1935.
The Beachcomber. Doubleday, Doran & company, Inc. 1935.
Sailor's Bane. Ritten House. 1936.
The Derelicts. Faber & Faber. 1938.
The Watch Below. Random House. 1940.
Spenlove in Arcady. Random House. 1940.
A Conrad Argosy. Doubleday, Doran & company, Inc. 1942.
Everyman's Dictionary of Literary Biography, English and American (1958)
Love, Paul A. "William McFee." Dictionary of Literary Biography, Late-Victorian and Edwardian British Novelists. Vol. 15. The Gale Group, 1995. 195-203. Gale Literary Databases. 8 Dec. 2008 <http://galenet.galegroup.com>.
"William M'Fee, Author, 85, Dies." New York Times 4 July 1966: 15.